Grow up, Yuvi

Someone get a message across to Yuvraj Singh, please: the captain’s armband is not an uber cool accessory. It is not the ultimate chick magnet; nor is it a means to pump up your brand equity with the sponsors. It is rather a sign of the added responsibilities the wearer assumes — and it is conferred on those ready to assume those responsibilities and the hard work that goes with it.

Throughout season 2 of the IPL, Yuvraj was content to swan about as the captain while Sangakkara and Mahela ran the ship, both during the training sessions and on the field. Most times, he scrounged around at point with a distracted air, while the two Sri Lankans made the bowling changes, set the field, and did all that Yuvraj was supposed to do, but wouldn’t.

It was no wonder then that KXIP decided to officially confer the captaincy on Sangakkara this season, or that when the captain was benched for a game due to slow over rates, to have Mahela, not Yuvraj, stand in.

Yuvraj’s reaction has been to indulge in one massive sulk. One massive sulk too many, in fact. He has been lackluster throughout this series; yesterday, when for once his team looked somewhat competitive, his attitude contrasted oddly with the animation of his mates. For the entirety of the Mumbai Indians innings, Yuvraj strolled casually from position to position, displaying all the fervor of a misogynist at a sangeet.

It is not the first time, either — there was the earlier occasion when he felt he had been passed over for captaincy of the national ODI team, made some carping noises [aided and abetted by doting daddy] and generally stirred up bad blood.

“Attitude problems” is a diagnosis used too often in recent times, often with little or no basis. In the case of Yuvraj, though, that diagnosis is IMHO merited — and the treatment is a swift kick in the behind. The player has gotten too used to being considered a vital cog in the Indian limited overs and T20 machines — a fact that, he believes, gives him sufficient room to behave like a spoilt brat.

Maybe it did, till a couple of years ago. But maybe it is time for Yuvraj to look around him — at the half dozen or so young talents that are shining bright  in the IPL arc lights. They’ve been batting better than Yuvraj and crucially, fielding way better than him to the point where Yuvi’s two USPs are no longer his to boast about.

When the batting bench was under-staffed, the Prince of Sulks could get away with riding his luck and playing the odd game-breaking innings once or twice a season to keep himself in the frame [when I brought up his name in a recent chat with friends, two of them were quick to go ‘Remember his six sixes?’]. That, I suspect, is a luxury he can no longer afford.

The question is, does he know it yet?

XI has a new king

Tom Moody has no problems with Yuvraj. He wants Yuvraj’s batting to come to the fore. The team wants Yuvraj to concentrate on his batting. The management at Kings XI wants Yuvraj to, well, step aside.

Long story short, Yuvraj is no longer captain of Kings XI; Kumar Sangakkara will play that role in the third edition of IPL.

In other words, the Kings XI management has made de jure what was hitherto de facto — it is no secret that throughout the second edition, Sangakkara acted as captain, with ex officio help from Mahela Jayawardene, while Yuvraj Singh chewed gum in the outfield.

Not all that long ago, Yuvraj was being spoken of as a potential to wear the captain’s armband at the national level. Sic transit gloria, and all that.

The art of running backwards

‘A million fans were cheated of a chance to witness history,’ says the reporter on the TV screen.

The decision was dodgy, to put it mildly — but ‘a million fans’ have been ‘looking forward’ to seeing this particular slice of history being created ever since this series started; we can wait for another game. Or two.

What appears to have been reduced to a side-story is the fact that India lost a game it should have won with considerable ease. The wicket was loaded for the batsmen [while on that, India’s bowlers and, for once, the fielding, did outstandingly well I thought to limit Australia to an under-par 249], unlike the Kotla wicket of two days ago. And yet, strangely, India opted to approach this chase as if it was still batting at the Kotla — with an exaggerated caution that at first seemed inexplicable, then progressively ridiculous.

‘Strategy’ is a two-edged sword — it can clear the mind and help you focus on what you need to do. That said, it strikes me that devising a one-size-fits-all ‘strategy’ is equally daft. India’s batting ‘game plan’ appears to be something on these lines: Sehwag is a force of nature, no point telling him anything, so let him do his stuff and get out. Then we will, come hell or high full toss, start “pushing the ball around” till we get to the end game, and at that point we will “explode”.

It is a ‘strategy’ we appear to implement without reference to the ground conditions, the bowling, the wicket or even the size of the target, almost as if there is a court injunction that stops us from playing any other way. And it works just fine so long as our ‘exploders’ manage to hang around till the end.

Yesterday they didn’t, and we paid. The how of it is contained in these two sets of stats: the over comparison [incorporating the run rates and required rate] and the player-versus-player stats, which when parsed [check out the singles versus dot balls; check out what happens when you break a batsman’s score down into its component parts: proportion of dot balls to scoring shots] shows you exactly where, and how, we lost the game.

[Incidentally, in all this talk of how well Doug Bollinger bowled — and yes, he was exemplary in his adherence to line and length — what does it tell you that the best strike rates against him are those of Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar?].

One other random thought occurs: Virat Kohli needed to come in to cover for Gautam Gambhir’s injury [though we do have the more experienced Dinesh Karthick as cover, and likely could have used him to better effect] — but does that automatically mean the youngster, still to play the one innings that will give him confidence at this level, should be inserted in Gambhir’s batting position?

Kohli is as yet too unsure of his own skills, and how they stack up at the international level, to take on the crucial number three position, yet it is in this slot that he gets to bat every single time. The upshot — the innings gets becalmed after the inevitable Sehwag cameo, with the inexperienced Kohli playing for survival and the experienced Sachin playing, presumably, for those impatient million fans the TV reporter is still nattering about. [But I forget: suggesting that maybe Sachin is currently not optimizing his game for the team is fraught with risk — what, have I forgotten the knock he played in Sri Lanka?!].

In passing, a clip from the Cricinfo bulletin:

India’s chase had a terrific start with Virender Sehwag caning Mitchell Johnson for 30 runs off 14 balls. Australia began to fight back after Sehwag fell but India were on course while Sachin Tendulkar was batting. However, his dismissal for 40 – the highest score of the innings – was the beginning of the end as wickets fell frequently thereafter.

Really? Or would it be more accurate to say, Sehwag treated the bowling as it deserved to be, and India allowed the Australian bowlers to catch their breath, recover their wits and get back into the game once Sehwag fell?

Practice makes perfectly unfit?

Okay, so here’s the latest from the sick bay that is the Indian cricket team: Yuvraj Singh and his injured finger. Just curious: who was the last Indian player injured during match play?

The whatsit cup final

Remarkably little heartburn in the papers Saturday, following India’s collapse chasing an improbable target of 308 against a well-rounded bowling attack backed by superb fielding. Nice. The team after all is easing back into competitive cricket after a decent-sized layoff, so any breast-beating at the symptoms of rust would have been premature. Come to think of it, if India loses the Compaq Cup final today, I still wouldn’t worry.

That said, there are signs that should begin to seriously worry selectors — and the first is Suresh Raina. Along with Rohit Sharma, Raina is being groomed to bat at 3 or 4 in the order in the new dispensation. Watch him play Shane Bond, though, and you realize just how far he has to go before he can live up to that billing — Raina was distinctly discommoded by anything that didn’t pitch in his own half and, in fact, was in such a state of chronic apprehension that once, ludicrously, he jumped onto the back foot to a ball of good length, and got into a horrid tangle. He may have been working on remedies, but clearly he has a heck of a long way to go still, and that opens up a major vulnerability within the lineup.

The other was the Yuvraj Singh sideshow on Friday. The one time contender for captaincy is a notoriously slow starter even when in prime form, but at the start of a season he is just plain flat-footed — and that is in large part the result of a lifestyle that avoids anything remotely resembling practice in favor of the bright lights of the Mumbai party circuit. During his time as coach, John Wright had identified the tendency to slack off during the off season as the single reason why the team invariably starts the new season slow. Years later, though the symptom was identified, there still seems no cure in sight. Do we even have an off season schedule, and does anyone actively monitor what the players get up to when there are no international commitments?

The third problem, unfortunately, is not something the selectors or the team can do much about just now. In ODIs, you need the ability to maximize the possibilities of the first ten overs — and absent Viru Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, the team lacks that ability. A slow start, compounded by Dravid at three, means pressure all the way down the line, and that pressure is falling on the likes of Raina and Yuvraj who, at this point, are just not equipped to turn it around.

At the end of Friday’s game, MS Dhoni said the toss was 50 per cent of the battle and if you can put up anything in the region of 250 batting first, that is 80 per cent of the game won. I don’t know if it is that simple — the team at this moment has a sluggish look about it, especially in the field [against Lanka, fielders routinely conceded twos where there should have just been brisk ones; against that, the Lankan inner ring routinely denied singles and had the Indians under enormous pressure]; even if they were to win the toss today, I don’t see them winning the game, not with rust so thick in all three departments of the game.

In any case — how many of you watched the two India games thus far? Just taking the temperature. 🙂 I’ll likely watch the first half of today’s game, anyway, before heading off to meet some friends just in from London — thoughts, as and when the occur, on my Twitter stream.


During a recent chat, Harsha Bhogle threw up an interesting point: If the IPL is supposed to be a platform for Indian cricket to fine tune its team, strengthen its bench, then how well has it done in terms of throwing up the future captain of the national team?

There’s MS Dhoni with the Chennai Super Kings, as incumbent. There’s Viru Sehwag with Delhi, but he says he doesn’t want to lead the national team [the reasons for the sudden renunciation remain unclear].

There’s Yuvraj Singh with the Punjab outfit, but… “Yuvraj’s comment that the captaincy makes him angry is in my mind the quote of the IPL,” Harsha said. Besides, if you were paying close attention to Punjab’s games, what would have struck you with force is that Yuvraj was captain in name only — it was Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara who at all times seemed to be controlling the action; they were constantly consulting each other, making changes in the field placing, deciding on bowling changes — and Yuvraj was quite content to stay in his fielding position and let the two Sri Lankans handle the reins.

“I don’t want to be a captain, I have already told selectors about it. I have said that a new player should be made vice-captain and be groomed to be a captain,” Sehwag told Indian news channel News24. “I want that I should continue to score runs and keep winning matches for the team.”

Full marks to Viru for foresight, and for being upfront about his own intentions/ambitions and lack thereof — but where do the selectors go for the next vice captain? Gautam Gambhir has done fairly decently when he has had to take the reins from Viru, but outside of the Delhi opener, there is not in this Indian squad a single player from the younger lot who has cemented his position to the point where he is an automatic pick, and hence an option for apprenticeship in the leadership role.